In the past week, reading student work from the Vermont College MFA in children’s literature has taken me into the strangest places. A music-thumping pit. A shop with furry antlers dangling in a corner. A grubby gym with my teacher’s false teeth near my head. Into a family destroyed by a dictator. Into a family shaken apart by the Korean War. Into a foster child. A princess who sings and one who doesn’t. Who needs to leave the couch when words, carved well, carry us into the past, the future, the thumping hearts of other humans?
But I have gotten off my couch. If I hadn’t climbed onto planes, lugging my luggage, I wouldn’t have gotten to see the amazing fundraising talents of Beth and her friends in Houston. I wouldn’t have met teachers at the reading conference in Denver who want to see us–educators and parents–rise up and demand that books have their rightful place in classrooms and school libraries, again. (We baby boomers moved through history in such a big lump. Can it be that we’re going to let our idealistic voices be quieted now?) I wouldn’t have looked out my hotel window to see the sun lifting into the pink sky behind the mountains, either.
This is what I’m thinking about, now, as I pack my bags for an author visit in Indonesia. It’s so hard…finding the international cell phone and my passport–putting away my winter coat and taking out my raincoat–trying to figure out how much snow might sit between the shuttle and the doors of the airport and whether I can wear my walking sandals rather than my boots. I think of myself crammed into an airplane seat. Sitting. Sitting. Sitting.
But if I hadn’t gone to Indonesia two years ago for my first author visits there, how would I have ever dreamed of this gray stone with its flowers and wraps? How could I have imagined the lives of the students I met and wrote with, there? And Lanie’s friend Dakota would never have gone off to save orangutans in the book I wrote when I came back, either.
The landscape is interesting everywhere, inside of us as well as out. Books carry our imaginations and understandings to new places even if we spend most of our lives scrambling after goats or carrying heavy pots of water. But me? I seemed doomed to want to pack–bad as I am at it–and scramble onto airplanes and see…everything.
After all, one of the first things I ever pretended to read, on my way to Ethiopia, before I could even sound out one word for real, was that airplane literature that tells you how to slide down an inflatable slide.